Ecuador: Why the indigenous movement’s victory is a partial one

October 18, 2019
Rally in Quito against Decree 833. Photo: Jelena Rudd.

There are celebrations in Ecuador. They began on October 13, when the government and the Indigenous movement, centrally grouped in the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), announced they had reached an agreement on Decree 883, which removed fuel subsidies.

The response was twofold.

The streets were filled with euphoria after the victory, which followed 11 days of protests in the face of strong repression. The battlefield in downtown Quito was a scene of applause, horns, trucks and taxis carrying Ecuadorian flags, and people from the neighbourhoods.

However, the question arose as to what exactly had been achieved. This was either an immediate and effective repeal, as announced and celebrated by CONAIE, or an undated substitution, as President Lenín Moreno announced on Twitter.

This was partly justified by the United Nations Ecuador communiqué (a mediating body in the dialogue), which stated: “Decree 883 is left without effect”. It then stated: “We will proceed immediately to work on the elaboration of a new decree that will allow a policy of subsidies, with an integral approach, which ensures that these [subsidies] are not destined to the benefit of people with greater resources and smugglers — through rationalisation, targeting and sectoral criteria”.

On the same night, CONAIE reported that a commission had been set up to “draft the decree that replaces 883 — this does not end until the agreement is fully implemented”.

In this way, a partial victory was achieved, within the set of measures agreed between the government and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with Decree 883 being the one with the greatest impact on the economy.

The final result will depend on the new agreed upon decree.

There was also agreement on a procedure to investigate the actions and abuses of state security forces that resulted in at least 7 deaths, 1152 detained and 1340 injured.

Was there, however, the chance to gain more?

According to those who took part in the meetings, namely CONAIE, there was not. The mobilisations, although not exclusively by the indigenous movement, focused mainly on its capacity for action, both in Quito and in the road blockades throughout the country.

Another scenario unfolded in parallel to the debate on the decree: the persecution of leaders of the Citizen’s Revolution Movement (CRM) and the political base of former president Rafael Correa.

Moreno announced this crackdown when he put the responsibility for acts of violence onto Correa. The government’s tactic was to recognise the indigenous people as legitimate representatives and criminalise Correísmo.

The persecution began during the mobilisation: CRM assembly member Gabriela Rivadeneira had to take refuge in the Mexican embassy and ex-mayor Alexandra Arce was arrested. The prefect of Pichincha, Paola Pabón, was arrested in the early hours of October 13, and the house of ex-assembly member Virgilio Hernández was raided on October 14.

These arrests and persecutions through the courts, together with media condemnation, came on top of previous cases, such as that of former vice president Jorge Glas, former foreign minister Ricardo Patiño (now a refugee in Mexico) and Correa.

Ecuador is simultaneously experiencing the celebration of the partial victory of CONAIE and the popular mobilisation that lasted 11 days; the persecution of Correísmo as part of Moreno’s political attack on his adversary; and a government that surrendered Decree 883, but which is now seeking ways to avoid giving it up in practice.

To make matters more complex, differences existing between the direction of the CONAIE and Correísmo, which have been evident for several years, were highlighted via Twitter during the days of protest, and brought to the forefront during the dialogue, when CONAIE’s president Jaime Vargas attacked the CRM.

Ecuador, which is beginning its first day since the disbanding of mobilisations, is experiencing a complex situation. Moreno’s government will not cease in its attempts to neoliberalise the economy, in which the IMF is now deeply embedded. As well, the government’s alignment with the United States is now the epicenter of its foreign policy.

What will CONAIE’s next steps be? What will Correísmo do in the face of political persecution? This is still up in the air.

[Abridged from Correo Del Alba.]

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